If you’ll allow me, I’d like to devote this blog to the disaster that was Typhoon Haiyan.
If you are not in your own country when calamity strikes it, you feel an entire range of emotions from disbelief to depression, peppered by helplessness and heartbreak.
In the first few hours following the outbreak of the news, I was glued to Facebook where I got endless streams of updates, news links, and calls for help. The majority of my contacts in Manila hit the ground running and mobilized relief operations. It has been said several times in the past, it is a good thing that we Filipinos, as a country, are used to adversity.
But this was all so big, extreme, and over our heads. To this day, over a week since the storm hit, there is a ton of work left to be done. The recovery will be long.
Questions about the safety of my family started to come in from friends in Beijing, and via email from contacts elsewhere in the world. I truly appreciate the concern and how people come together to express solidarity at a time like this.
My own family of origin, as well as my in-laws, are safe and dry in Manila, hundreds of kilometers away from where the typhoon hit. However, an entire clan of locals from the affected area is personally known to us. They have, for several generations, worked loyally for us as drivers and helpers. Several of them, thankfully, are still in Manila either living with our extended family or in nearby settlements, similar to those found for migrant workers in Beijing. Some though, had already gone back to their hometown to retire or to raise their own families. They were the ones who lost family and property. We rejoice with every bit of good news we receive from them. We weep when we hear of what they have yet to endure.
One of the most loyal of all is Maria. She worked for my mother-in-law for nearly fifty years. She helped raise my husband and his siblings, and then a second generation of children, making her a nanny, an aunt, and a grandmother all in one. Yaya Diding, as she is known to us (yaya is our equivalent of ayi or nanny), was always just THERE. We have never known her not to be. She herself never married because she could not bear to leave the family she served for so long. When she became too old to do physical work around the house, Yaya Diding had to be forced into retirement. Her failing health eventually persuaded her to give in, but only on condition that she could stay in Manila and be allowed to come to work once a week. She would come and help prepare family dinner when the entire family comprised of matriarch, six siblings, spouses, and children (minus my husband’s branch who live further afield).
Yaya Diding always sent most of her salary home, and from it, her relatives were able to send their children through school and build houses for themselves. We have never been to their hometown but we know those children because Yaya Diding would proudly show us photos of them on graduation day, or wearing clothes that were handed down from our children. We never saw the house she built for her mother but we know it too, because she would tell us about the progress they were making in its construction. When we repatriated in 2003, she helped us unpack our shipment. She carefully folded each piece of extra-thick bubble wrap, quietly saying it could still be put to good use. At the end of the day she came up to me and asked if she could have it all. "Of course", I said, "but why?" The house was coming along slowly and as she was still saving up for glass windows; she could send the bubble wrap home to temporarily cover up the window frames. I was speechless upon realizing how little some families had.
Yaya Diding eventually earned enough to buy real glass windows. Her work of five decades translated into those panels of glass, as well as other parts of her house that came together bit by bit. By her village’s standards, her family was lucky to have glass windows and steel frames and concrete walls. But all those were no match to the fury of the typhoon and, in one fell swoop, all that her labor stood for came crumbling down.
If you who are reading this have ever been touched by the service of an ayi or a driver, be it for five days or five months, spare a thought for Maria, or Yaya Diding. She, like many of the workers in these parts of Beijing, has dedicated a great portion of her life to serve our families. She puts a face to the tragedy that has befallen a great number of my countrymen. But recalling her generous spirit and the determination with which she set her heart on improving her own family’s condition also brings hope.
Photo EU Humanitarian Aid & Civil Protection (Flickr)
Dana is the beijingkids Shunyi Correspondent. Originally from the Philippines, she moved to Beijing in 2011 (via Europe) with her husband, two sons and Rusty the dog. She enjoys writing, photography, theater, visual arts, and trying new food. In her free time, she can be found exploring the city and driving along the mountain roads of Huairou, Miyun and Pinggu.